S. Matthew Liao

S. Matthew
S. Matthew Liao

Director of Center for Bioethics

Arthur Zitrin Professor of Bioethics

Professional overview

Dr. Matthew Liao uses the tools of philosophy to study and examine the ramifications of novel biomedical innovations.

A speaker at TEDxCERN, Dr. Liao discussed whether it is ethical for someone to erase certain aspects of their memories and how doing so might affect that individual's identity. He has also given a TED talk in New York and been featured in the New York Times, The Atlantic, The Guardian, and other numerous media outlets.

The author and editor of four books, Dr. Liao provides the academic community with a collection of human rights essays. In The Right to be Loved, he explores the philosophical foundations underpinning children's right to be loved, and proposes that we reconceptualize our policies concerning adoptions so that individuals who are not romantically linked can co-adopt a child together.

Dr. Liao provides students with an education grounded in a broad conception of bioethics encompassing both medical and environmental ethics. He offers students the opportunity to explore the intersection of human rights practice with central domains of public health and regularly teaches normative theory and neuroethics. His courses address how the rightness or wrongness of an act is determined and ethical issues arising out of new medical technologies such as embryonic stem cell research, cloning, artificial reproduction, and genetic engineering; ethical issues raised by the development and use of neuroscientific technologies such as the ethics of erasing traumatic memories; the ethics of mood and cognitive enhancements; and moral and legal implications of "mind-reading" technologies for brain privacy.

To learn more about Dr. Liao and his work, visit his website and blog.

Education

AB, Politics (Magna Cum Laude), Princeton University, Princeton, NJ
DPhil, Philosophy, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

Honors and awards

Outstanding Academic Title, The Right to Be Loved, Choice Review (2016)
TEDx Speaker at CERN, Geneva, Switzerland (2015)
TEDx Speaker, New York, NY (2013)
Humanities Grant Initiative, NYU (2011)
Big Think Delphi Fellow (2011)

Areas of research and study

Bioethics
Epistemology
Metaphysics
Moral Psychology

Publications

Current controversies in bioethics

O'Neil, C., & Liao, S.M.

Publication year

2017

Neuroscience and Ethics: Assessing Greene's Epistemic Debunking Argument Against Deontology

Liao, S.M.

Publication year

2017

Journal title

Experimental Psychology

Volume

64

Page(s)

82-92
10.1027/1618-3169/a000352
Abstract

A number of people believe that results from neuroscience have the potential to settle seemingly intractable debates concerning the nature, practice, and reliability of moral judgments. In particular, Joshua Greene has argued that evidence from neuroscience can be used to advance the long-standing debate between consequentialism and deontology. This paper first argues that charitably interpreted, Greene's neuroscientific evidence can contribute to substantive ethical discussions by being part of an epistemic debunking argument. It then argues that taken as an epistemic debunking argument, Greene's argument falls short in undermining deontological judgments. Lastly, it proposes that accepting Greene's methodology at face value, neuroimaging results may in fact call into question the reliability of consequentialist judgments. The upshot is that Greene's empirical results do not undermine deontology and that Greene's project points toward a way by which empirical evidence such as neuroscientific evidence can play a role in normative debates.

Précis for The Right to Be Loved

Liao, S.M.

Publication year

2017

Journal title

Philosophy and Phenomenological Research

Volume

94

Page(s)

738-742
10.1111/phpr.12398

Rightholding, Demandingness of Love, and Parental Licensing

Liao, S.M.

Publication year

2017

Journal title

Philosophy and Phenomenological Research

Volume

94

Page(s)

762-769
10.1111/phpr.12399

Are Intuitions Heuristics?

Liao, S.M.

Publication year

2016

Biological Parenting as a Human Right

Liao, S.M.

Publication year

2016

Journal title

Journal of Moral Philosophy

Volume

13

Page(s)

652-668
10.1163/17455243-01306003
Abstract

Do biological parents have the right to parent their own biological children? It might seem obvious that the answer is yes, but the philosophical justification for this right is uncertain. In recent years, there has been a flurry of philosophical activity aimed at providing fresh justifications for this right. In this paper, I shall propose a new answer, namely, the right to parent one's own biological children is a human right. I call this the human rights account of parental rights and I shall explain how this account is better than these other alternatives.

Health (care) and human rights: a fundamental conditions approach

Liao, S.M.

Publication year

2016

Journal title

Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics

Volume

37

Page(s)

259-274
10.1007/s11017-016-9373-9
Abstract

Many international declarations state that human beings have a human right to health care. However, is there a human right to health care? What grounds this right, and who has the corresponding duties to promote this right? Elsewhere, I have argued that human beings have human rights to the fundamental conditions for pursuing a good life. Drawing on this fundamental conditions approach of human rights, I offer a novel way of grounding a human right to health care.

Human Rights and Public

Liao, S.M.

Publication year

2016

Moral brains: the neuroscience of morality

Liao, S.M.

Publication year

2016
10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199357666.001.0001

Morality and Neuroscience: Past and Future

Liao, S.M.

Publication year

2016

The Grounds of Ancillary Care Duties

Liao, S.M., & O'Neil, C.

Publication year

2016

Human Rights as Fundamental Conditions for a Good Life

Liao, S.M.

Publication year

2015

Philosophical foundations of human rights

Cruft, R., Renzo, M., & Liao, S.M.

Publication year

2015

The Philosophical Foundations of Human Rights: An Overview

Liao, S.M., Cruft, R., & Renzo, M.

Publication year

2015

The Right to be Loved

Liao, S.M.

Publication year

2015

The Closeness Problem and the Doctrine of Double Effect: A Way Forward

Liao, S.M.

Publication year

2014

Journal title

Criminal Law and Philosophy
10.1007/s11572-014-9344-z
Abstract

A major challenge to the Doctrine of Double Effect (DDE) is the concern that an agent’s intention can be identified in such a fine-grained way as to eliminate an intention to harm from a putative example of an intended harm, and yet, the resulting case appears to be a case of impermissibility. This is the so-called “closeness problem.” Many people believe that one can address the closeness problem by adopting Warren Quinn’s version of the DDE, call it DDE*, which distinguishes between harmful direct agency and harmful indirect agency. In this paper, I first argue that Quinn’s DDE* is just as vulnerable to the closeness problem as the DDE is. Second, some might think that what we should therefore do is give up on intentions altogether and move towards some kind of non-state-of-mind, victim-based deontology. I shall argue against this move and explain why intentions are indispensable to an adequate nonconsequentialist theory. Finally, I shall propose a new way of answering the closeness problem.

Editorial

Liao, S.M.

Publication year

2013

Journal title

Journal of Moral Philosophy

Volume

10

Page(s)

1-2
10.1163/17455243-01001007

The right of children to be loved

Liao, S.M.

Publication year

2013

Page(s)

347-363

Human Engineering and Climate Change

Liao, S.M., Sandberg, A., & Roache, R.

Publication year

2012

Journal title

Ethics, Policy and Environment

Volume

15

Page(s)

206-221
10.1080/21550085.2012.685574
Abstract

Anthropogenic climate change is arguably one of the biggest problems that confront us today. There is ample evidence that climate change is likely to affect adversely many aspects of life for all people around the world, and that existing solutions such as geoengineering might be too risky and ordinary behavioural and market solutions might not be sufficient to mitigate climate change. In this paper, we consider a new kind of solution to climate change, what we call human engineering, which involves biomedical modifications of humans so that they can mitigate and/or adapt to climate change. We argue that human engineering is potentially less risky than geoengineering and that it could help behavioural and market solutions succeed in mitigating climate change. We also consider some possible ethical concerns regarding human engineering such as its safety, the implications of human engineering for our children and society, and we argue that these concerns can be addressed. Our upshot is that human engineering deserves further consideration in the debate about climate change.

Intentions and moral permissibility: The case of acting permissibly with bad intentions

Liao, S.M.

Publication year

2012

Journal title

Law and Philosophy

Volume

31

Page(s)

703-724
10.1007/s10982-012-9134-5
Abstract

Many people believe in the intention principle, according to which an agent's intention in performing an act can sometimes make an act that would otherwise have been permissible impermissible, other things being equal. Judith Jarvis Thomson, Frances Kamm and Thomas Scanlon have offered cases that seem to show that it can be permissible for an agent to act even when the agent has bad intentions. If valid, these cases would seem to cast doubt on the intention principle. In this paper, I point out that these cases have confounding factors that have received little attention in the literature. I argue that these confounding factors undermine the putative force of these cases against the intention principle. Indeed, when cases without these confounding factors are considered, it becomes clear, so I argue, that intentions can be relevant for the permissibility of an act.

Political and naturalistic conceptions of human rights: A false polemic?

Liao, S.M., & Etinson, A.

Publication year

2012

Journal title

Journal of Moral Philosophy

Volume

9

Page(s)

327-352
10.1163/17455243-00903008
Abstract

What are human rights? According to one longstanding account, the Naturalistic Conception of human rights, human rights are those that we have simply in virtue of being human. In recent years, however, a new and purportedly alternative conception of human rights has become increasingly popular. This is the so-called Political Conception of human rights, the proponents of which include John Rawls, Charles Beitz, and Joseph Raz. In this paper we argue for three claims. First, we demonstrate that Naturalistic Conceptions of human rights can accommodate two of the most salient concerns that proponents of the Political Conception have raised about them. Second, we argue that the theoretical distance between Naturalistic and Political Conceptions is not as great as it has been made out to be. Finally, we argue that a Political Conception of human rights, on its own, lacks the resources necessary to determine the substantive content of human rights. If we are right, not only should the Naturalistic Conception not be rejected, the Political Conception is in fact incomplete without the theoretical resources that a Naturalistic Conception characteristically provides. These three claims, in tandem, provide a fresh and largely conciliatory perspective on the ongoing debate between proponents of Political and Naturalistic Conceptions of human rights.

Putting the trolley in order: Experimental philosophy and the loop case

Liao, S.M., Wiegmann, A., Alexander, J., & Vong, G.

Publication year

2012

Journal title

Philosophical Psychology

Volume

25

Page(s)

661-671
10.1080/09515089.2011.627536
Abstract

In recent years, a number of philosophers have conducted empirical studies that survey people's intuitions about various subject matters in philosophy. Some have found that intuitions vary accordingly to seemingly irrelevant facts: facts about who is considering the hypothetical case, the presence or absence of certain kinds of content, or the context in which the hypothetical case is being considered. Our research applies this experimental philosophical methodology to Judith Jarvis Thomson's famous Loop Case, which she used to call into question the validity of the intuitively plausible Doctrine of Double Effect. We found that intuitions about the Loop Case vary according to the context in which the case is considered. We contend that this undermines the supposed evidential status of intuitions about the Loop Case. We conclude by considering the implications of our findings for philosophers who rely on the Loop Case to make philosophical arguments and for philosophers who use intuitions in general.

The genetic account of moral status: A defense

Liao, S.M.

Publication year

2012

Journal title

Journal of Moral Philosophy

Volume

9

Page(s)

265-277
10.1163/174552412X625718
Abstract

Christopher Grau argues that the genetic basis for moral agency account of rightholding is problematic because it fails to grant all human beings the moral status of rightholding; it grants the status of rightholding to entities that do not intuitively deserve such status; and it assumes that the genetic basis for moral agency has intrinsic/final value, but the genetic basis for moral agency only has instrumental value. Grau also argues that those who are inclined to hold that all human beings are rightholders should reconsider speciesism. In this paper, I argue that Grau's objections do not undermine the genetic basis for moral agency account of rightholding, and I also offer criticisms of Grau's defense of speciesism.

Why children need to be loved

Liao, S.M.

Publication year

2012

Journal title

Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy

Volume

15

Page(s)

347-358
10.1080/13698230.2012.679422
Abstract

I have argued elsewhere that children have a moral right to be loved. Mhairi Cowden challenges my arguments. Among other things, Cowden believes that children do not need to be loved. In this paper, I explain why Cowdens arguments fail and offer additional evidence for why children need to be loved.

After Prozac

Savulescu, J., Meulen, H.J., Kahane, G., & Liao, S.M.

Publication year

2011

Page(s)

245-256

Contact

sjl14@nyu.edu +1 (212) 998-3672 715 Broadway New York, NY 10003